A Travellerspoint blog

May 2009

Crossing the North South Divide

Taupo to Queenstown and everywhere in between

Hi again everyone, sorry it’s been a while since we last wrote, but hopefully you’ve had chance to look at the pictures? Anyway, here's another update for your reading pleasure!

Since our last exciting instalment, we've had a mixture of very energetic and very lazy days to go with the very mixed weather we've been having! Have you ever heard the song '4 seasons in one day’? It’s pretty apt here - the weather can be very changeable, especially when you're walking up mountains which are 3,000 feet above sea level!

On May 20th, we attempted to walk the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most famous walk past huge mountains and active volcanoes with breath-taking views to boot. Sadly, having rose at 6am and got all geared up to go, the road to the crossing was closed by snow.

Not to be deterred, our very helpful hostel owner showed us a walk we could do which afforded equally as spectacular scenery without the danger of being caught in dangerous blizzard conditions should the weather worsen.

So we walked past the Taranaki Falls in brilliant early morning sunshine on our way in-between Mt Ruapehu (2797m) and Mt Ngauraho (2287m), the latter used for the infamous Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our aim was to reach the Tama Lakes by 1pm, in order to give us time to eat lunch and get back to the car before dusk approached. With snow partially obscuring the markers and ice everywhere, this wasn’t somewhere you wanted to be walking around in the dark!

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We reached the Lakes on time, sitting to admire their strange green colour while eating lunch. We began to notice clouds approaching on the horizon and so decided to make haste back down the mountain – we’d taken more than enough photos while the visibility was good in the morning.

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Around an hour away from the car, the clouds confirmed our suspicions with heavy snow and a real drop in temperature, at this point we were especially glad for our merino wool thermals and waterproofs! Our party of 7 all got back to our cars looking like snowmen but everyone agreed it had been a fantastic walk and well worth the sore feet!

After a well earned rest we drove north to Taupo, after finally summoning up a small amount of energy to explore we were advised that the Huka Falls were quite a spectacle to behold.

We walked through an attractive park, the trees in all their autumnal glory and the river below steaming where a geothermal pool joined its cool waters. Following the river along, we heard the falls long before we saw them. The falls are long and narrow with only a 10 metre drop, but the volume of water passing through is equivalent to 400 tonnes per second!! The sight and sound of such power is truly awe-inspiring.

We spend a couple of days relaxing in Taupo before venturing south east to Napier, famous for its art-deco architecture. Following a devastating earthquake in 1931 – the largest in New Zealand’s recorded history the city had to be rebuilt. Unfortunately we only see rain clouds here so move on quickly to Wellington in search of drier weather.

After looking at the dire hostel reviews for Wellington we decide to stay outside of the city in the coastal town of Plimmerton just 20kms up the road. On arriving at the Moana Lodge we’re happy with our decision, it’s one of the nicest places we’ve stayed, with just about everything you could want for, they even baked a birthday cake for Richard!!

We had fun exploring the area, just outside Wellington there is a seal winter ‘Haul out’ where the males come out of the sea to re-condition over the winter months, generally feeding and lazing on the rocks all day!

While in Wellington, we dragged ourselves out of bed at the crazy hour of 5am to drive into town to watch the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in an Irish bar. Unfortunately, the game didn’t quite go to plan and United lost 2-0. That’s all Richard can bear to type about that!

On June 3rd we bid a fond farewell to the north island and caught the Wellington to Picton ferry. It was a lovely sunny day, so despite the biting wind we sat on the front deck and admired the gorgeous scenery as it unfolded in front of us – clear blue water, lush forests lining hills with sprinklings of cloud at their peak, dramatic sweeping coastlines with islands liberally dotted around and inviting little bays with sail-boats moored up and tiny boardwalks. A wonderful introduction to the south island, which we’d been told was even prettier than the north and we were starting to believe it.

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The following day we took a 6 hour walk over the Queen Charlotte Sound to further linger on the sights we’d enjoyed on the ferry. Again we were lucky with the weather and took some great photos.

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We then decided that we’d like to travel south to try and walk the Fox Glacier and enjoy an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, both activities potentially requiring us to wait until the weather permitted us to enjoy them, as the west of the south island is notorious for its wet weather.

We spent a couple of days in Nelson, where we sampled a Kiwi Saturday morning food market and also visited the geographical centre of New Zealand!

Travelling south again, we stayed overnight in Greymouth before heading to the Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers area to enquire about walking up one of them. Unfortunately, the forecast for the whole of the next week was rain and more rain, so we stayed overnight before heading down towards Queenstown on the Haast Pass, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring drives we’ve ever experienced.

We’re currently staying just outside Queenstown in Arrowtown, which is an old gold mining town and has a wonderfully preserved high street from its former prospecting days. We decided against panning in the river, it looked a little too cold!! The town also has a fascinating restored Chinese settlement where we explored the old storehouse and tiny dwellings made form old tin sheets and built into cliff faces.

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Queenstown itself is a little commercialised, geared towards party-goers and thrill seekers but nonetheless is beautifully situated on Lake Wakatipu and overlooked by the imposing and magnificently snow-capped Remarkables mountain range. It has the feeling of a small alpine ski resort, rather than a town in New Zealand.

Tomorrow we drive to Manapouri, where we will stay prior to our over-night cruise on Doubtful Sound, one of the most remote and beautiful fjords in the country. We’re crossing everything for good weather, though we have heard it’s still a striking place in poor weather.

As always we hope to hear from you soon, take care of yourselves

Richard and Lucy

Posted by rioandlucy 20:36 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Geysers, glow-worms and great walks!

Rotorua, Waitomo and New Plymouth

Hi there everyone, we hope you're okay and that life in the UK is treating you well. Have you remembered to get your expenses claims in on time like those loveable MPs who 'run' our country?!

Anyway, we've been a busy pair of bees here in New Zealand, so we're sending you this update from coastal New Plymouth on a damp Monday afternoon.
We're now sipping mochas on comfy sofas while using the wifi in a coffee shop to send you this - it's a hard life!

Since our last update, we left Hamilton and drove south to the geo-thermal area that surrounds the touristy town of Roturua - the smell of rotten eggs greeting us as we found our accommodation and decided what to see in the district.
Interestingly, the area sits on a volcanic fault-line that stretches all the way to the alps - once there was an eruption in the area that wasn't recorded by New Zealanders, as nobody lived here at the time, but it was recorded in Rome and China due to the huge dust clouds that could be seen!
Luckily, nothing quite so dramatic happened while we were there.

We did however visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, we saw a mini-explosion in the form to the Lady Knox geyser, which erupts with the help of a few soap flakes poured into the top every morning at 10.15am. It's a real sight to behold, first it foams at the mouth then the water really starts to jet out reaching a good 10 metres high!! we stayed down wind and dry thankfully!!
After the excitement we drove back to the park itself to take in the sights and smells that were on offer! As we drove through the bush we could see steam rising around us, it was a cooler morning which made it seem all the more dramatic! We saw so many different brightly coloured pools and heard the hubble-bubble of the mud pools, the Champagne pool was probably the most dramatic with its boiling turquoise waters surrounded by a bright orange encrusted rim steaming in the sun! The finale was the devils pool set in a white ash crater, where even the surrounding trees have been bleached by the fluorescent green waters. We visited the boiling mud pools on the outer road and giggle at the spurting pools and the noises that we're treated to!

The following day we visited Whakarewarewa, a Maori settlement set in some highly active land, we took a guided tour by Paola a former resident whose family still live in the village and where he still enjoys his early morning al fresco bathe in the hot waters. We also got to see a cultural performance which included some really beautiful songs and of course the Haka! It is extremely intimidating when seen up close, you can really understand why the Maori people would use it as a way of discouraging the enemy from battle!

Leaving Rotorua and it's lovely aroma behind us we drove to Waitomo to get a glimpse of the wonderful caves in this area and their curious inhabitants - the Glow Worms, known to most of us as maggots!
Our hostel was a couple of wooden cabins set on the top of a hill, we enjoyed fabulously clear nights and saw so many stars due to the remoteness and lack of any light pollution.

We drove out to see the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, accessible via a boardwalk through a tropical gorge. The bridge is actually an old cave which has gradually eroded over time, leaving a stunning archway which you can walk over and watch the river flow through below.

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Passing through the bridge, we came across a field with large rock formations which held fossils of giant oysters (the size of dinner plates) from when the whole area was actually a sea-bed, around 30 million years ago!
With the afternoon light fading, we jumped back in Sherona and nipped down to the Marokopa Falls, widely regarded as one of the most stunning falls in the country with a multi-tiered fall where waters cascade 30 metres down before thundering into a large pool below - the lush vegetation around these falls shake and sway as the spray from the falls throws them around.

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The next morning we departed early to join our tour guide Norm to begin our 'Spellbound' glow-worm and cave tour in Waitomo.
After being bounced about in the back of our minibus along rugged countryside and rolling hills into a farmers field, we descended a cliff on foot to arrive at the entrance to the first cave to be explored.
Jumping in a large dinghy, all lights were turned off so that we could experience total darkness and our night vision could kick in, meaning that the glow-worms would be much more visible to the naked eye.
We slowly floated through the underground cave, silently gliding along - the drips from overhead the only sound as the glow from above became brighter until it seemed we were staring at a starry night sky.

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The second cave we visited on foot, walking through as sections were beautifully lit by Norm as he talked us through the geology and history of the caves. We arrived in one particularly dark area where the lights were then turned on to reveal a huge cavern called the 'Cathedral', where the ceiling displayed huge stalactites high above our heads and the echo was a fitting tribute to the cavern's name!

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After visiting the local museum of caves we drove out to see the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel, this track and canopy boardwalk takes you on a fantastic bushwalk through some spectacular short tunnels, eventually leading to an impressive and huge cave where the Waitomo Stream appears to gain momentum as it thunders through beneath your feet.

Having exhausted all the attractions in Waitomo, we headed south-west to the city of New Plymouth, situated on the coast and next to the imposing (or so we've been told when the weather is clear!) Mount Taranaki!
We attempted one of the many walks around the mountain this morning, but were put off by the torrential rain and warnings that the little streams on the maps might now be raging torrents but 'probably passable'! Okaaaaay.

Yesterday we walked around the lovely Pukekura Park near our hostel, which even has a well-kept petting zoo including monkeys, tropical birds, alpacas, lemurs and of course a glum-faced donkey!
Wandering onto the waterfront, we watched waves crashing in while taking a look at the 'Wind Wand', a huge work of art by Len Lye which is essentially a ball on the end of huge stick which bends to the wind as it roars in off the Tasman Sea.

We're moving on to Lake Taupo and hoping to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing this week, weather-permitting of course!

Take care for now and hope to hear from you all soon!

Lucy and Richard

PS Better late than never, here are the videos from our sand-sledging adventures up at 90 Mile Beach for your viewing pleasure!

Posted by rioandlucy 20:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

From Endless Rain to Endless Summer

Bay of Islands, 90 Mile Beach and Hokianga

Hi again everyone, hope you're all well. Here's our latest update from the north island of New Zealand!

After leaving Whangarei, we headed north hoping to see some marine life. However, when we were in Paihia in the Bay of Islands, you'll no doubt be happy to hear after all our boasting of glorious sunshine in California, it did nothing but rain and so we missed the best of the area, which was a shame as it would have been nice to snorkle or take a boat-trip but nevermind.

After that the sun came out again as we continued north to the bottom of 90 Mile Beach, staying in a tiny village called Ahipara, just west of Kaitaia. We went to the Endless Summer Backpackers intending on staying for a night and ended up there for 6 days!
The place was gorgeous - right on the sea front, decked out in Kauri wood from top to bottom, big rooms, massive beds (from ours you could lay back and watch/listen to the Tasman Sea rolling onto the sandy beach across the village's only road) and lovely friendly Kiwi hosts.

They lent us some free sledges which we took to the Te Paki dunes, just next to Cape Reinga.
We didn't fancy taking Sherona the 1991 Corona over the 25 miles of incredibly bumpy unsealed road that led to the top of the Cape, so we pulled off early and spent 4 blissful hours cimbing up and zooming down the dunes, which were good and firm after some rain the day before and so were perfect for sledging down.
We'll show you the videos we took when we get back! Unfortunately, the incredible car-crash tv footage of Richard wiping out on the biggest dune of the lot was mysteriously 'lost' shortly after filming!

In the evening at the hostel, we would stroll onto the beach to watch the sun go down or sit on the porch with a coffee and do the same - it was idyllic! We realised that we might never leave after the 6th day there and so bid a fond farewell to it before heading south again.

We caught the cute 24 car ferry across the still waters of the Hokianga Harbour to Omapere, which is beautifully placed across from the Bay of Islands on the west coast - it was a good base to visit the giant Kauri trees in the Waipuoa Forest, and had a stunning coastline where we sat watching the waves crash in from the head of the bay while the sun set over the ocean horizon.

We then stopped overnight in Mangawhei arriving in Hamilton yesterday, which is a small city about 125km south Of Auckland. We've decided to really need to start heading south if we going to see the best of the rest of the north island before getting the ferry over to the south island in a couple of weeks time.

Anyway, we've both decided to become bums and travel the world until we're too old and need to come home for the free healthcare, assuming it's still around. Hope this is okay!!

Love to all as always.

Lucy and Richard.

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Posted by rioandlucy 16:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

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